WHAT’S HOLD­ING UP

IMPACS RE­PORT?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

On Au­gust 20, 2013 this was how the na­tion’s prime min­is­ter opened a tele­vised speech: “A few days ago I promised I would is­sue a state­ment to ad­dress is­sues of con­cern and in par­tic­u­lar the rea­sons for the ac­tions of the United States to dis­al­low the of­fi­cers of the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Force from par­tic­i­pat­ing in train­ing pro­grams ar­ranged or fi­nanced by the United States. I ad­dress you tonight in ful­fill­ment of that prom­ise.”

He ac­knowl­edged his gov­ern­ment’s re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. State Depart­ment had de­te­ri­o­rated. To blame was “an ex­ceed­ingly del­i­cate and com­plex mat­ter in­volv­ing sev­eral par­ties” but it would be of lit­tle value merely to con­firm what for some time had been in the public domain with­out pro­vid­ing some in­di­ca­tion of his gov­ern­ment’s plan to re­solve “the is­sues that con­front us.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “A so­lu­tion has to in­volve the of­fi­cers of the Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Force, the United States Gov­ern­ment, the of­fice of the Direc­tor of Public Pros­e­cu­tions and, most im­por­tantly, the cit­i­zens of our coun­try.”

What the prime min­is­ter care­fully re­ferred to as “the cur­rent events” had started, he said shock­ingly, with the fa­tal shoot­ing by po­lice of­fi­cers of “twelve in­di­vid­u­als” be­tween 2010 and 2011.

Ever the politi­cian, the prime min­is­ter was care­ful to ex­plain the fa­tal­i­ties had not oc­curred un­der his watch: “Those killings oc­curred af­ter the gov­ern­ment launched what was then de­scribed in the me­dia and else­where as ‘Op­er­a­tion Re­store Con­fi­dence.’ ”

He re­called that the par­tic­u­lar ini­tia­tive had started with a speech on May 30, 2010 by the for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen­son King, when he warned the na­tion’s crim­i­nals “there will be no refuge, no stone will be left un­turned and there will be no hid­ing place for any­one.”

By the prime min­is­ter’s re­call, his pre­de­ces­sor had on 13 Fe­bru­ary, 2011 is­sued a sec­ond deadly threat to the is­land’s crim­i­nal com­mu­nity: “They will be hunted down; they will be found; they will be pros­e­cuted; they will be judged and will be made to pay the con­se­quences for their crimes com­mit­ted against our peace-lov­ing, law-abid­ing peo­ple.”

Only the prime min­is­ter knows for cer­tain why he had de­scribed King’s speeches as “dra­matic” and sug­ges­tive of a the­atri­cal per­for­mance. He had him­self de­liv­ered in March 1998 a tele­vised ad­dress that be­gan on a re­li­gious note: “As a com­mu­nity, Lent should be a pe­riod when we reded­i­cate our­selves to find­ing the means whereby we can more prop­erly live to­gether as one peo­ple.” (Lent, a com­mu­nity?)

“It should be a time for build­ing,” the prime min­is­ter con­tin­ued, “a time for strength­en­ing our com­mon bonds as a peo­ple. But there are those among us who in­stead see the Len­ten sea­son as a time to kill; a time to ter­ror­ize our peace-lov­ing com­mu­nity and to play out their in­ter­nal quar­rels in our streets.”

He cited the killings on 4 March, 1998 and a short time ear­lier of Michael ‘Ga­boo’ Alexander and Adol­phus ‘Bon­nie’ Clarke as “cold-blood as­sas­si­na­tions,” sus­pected to have been com­mit­ted by cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als, one of whom al­legedly had also shot Eus­tace Phillip in 1997.

The prime min­is­ter did not “wish to ex­ag­ger­ate the sit­u­a­tion.” The peo­ple en­gaged in the mur­der­ous acts were small in num­ber, he said, and their ac­tiv­i­ties were “di­rected against each other.” He spoke of “hit lists” but as­sured his au­di­ence the po­lice were on top of the sit­u­a­tion.

“In short,” he went, “I want you to rest as­sured that this is not some wide­spread na­tional crime wave as­sault­ing any and ev­ery per­son in our com­mu­nity. In its essence this is a strug­gle among ri­val gangs, each determined to wipe out the other, ei­ther as an act of re­venge or in or­der to se­cure con­trol of the il­le­gal drugs trade.”

The prime min­is­ter did not re­veal the source of such re­as­sur­ing in­for­ma­tion but he blamed the ram­pant deadly vi­o­lence on “the lead­er­ship of the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Force”—which he said was “weak.” Un­der the Vaughan Lewis ad­min­is­tra­tion “the po­lice was al­lowed to wither,” he said. “They were de­nied ad­e­quate num­bers of ve­hi­cles; they were pre­vented from re­spond­ing to calls from the public. Starved of ad­e­quate man­power, there was of­ten no­body to de­tail to deal with cru­cial sit­u­a­tions. As a re­sult the force grew de­mor­al­ized, dispir­ited and in­ef­fec­tive—and the drug barons knew that.”

He promised “medium to short-term mea­sures that will strengthen law en­force­ment in this coun­try and put those who would wish to com­mit se­ri­ous crime un­der se­vere pres­sure.” His gov­ern­ment had re­solved, “af­ter dis­cus­sions with the rel­e­vant min­is­ters and the po­lice lead­er­ship, to take the fight to the gangs who seem bent on dis­rupt­ing our daily lives with their shoot­ings.” Be­sides, his gov­ern­ment would “stand firmly be­hind the po­lice in all law­ful ac­tions in this mat­ter.”

He ap­pealed to the pop­u­lace “for the sake of peace in our coun­try,” to be un­der­stand­ing if the po­lice ac­tiv­i­ties should “cause some of us some in­con­ve­nience and dis­com­fort.”

He ended his ad­dress with words sim­i­lar to those Stephen­son King had spo­ken in his own iden­ti­cal cir­cum­stances some twelve years later, at the launch­ing of Op­er­a­tion Re­store Con­fi­dence: “To those of you crim­i­nals who have in­flicted the pain of the last few days on the peo­ple of this coun­try, I prom­ise you a tougher time than you ever imag­ined pos­si­ble. The net will be stretched around you, slowly but surely closed in to trap you and ter­mi­nate once and for all your un­law­ful ac­tiv­i­ties. I prom­ise you can run but you surely can­not hide. In the com­ing days . . . you will find no hid­ing place in this our beloved coun­try.”

He promised “the crim­i­nals may have started the battle” but law and or­der would “surely end the war.” And with that he launched Op­er­a­tion Re­store Peace.

Did the “cur­rent events” cited by Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony in 2013 have their ge­n­e­sis in events go­ing back four years or did the de­ba­cle begin with the cur­rent prime min­is­ter’s own “dra­matic” launch­ing of Op­er­a­tion Re­store Peace?

In his 2013 speech en­ti­tled “An Un­happy Episode,” the prime min­is­ter—as he had in 1998—ref­er­enced a “hit list” of tar­geted per­sons deemed to be crim­i­nals. He had seen the deadly list with his own eyes while his party was in op­po­si­tion, he said. In any event, “in the af­ter­math of the launch of Op­er­a­tion Re­store Con­fi­dence some twelve per­sons met their deaths.”

More­over: “When the killings oc­curred, a few in our midst protested; some ap­plauded and wel­comed the seem­ing re­duc­tion of homi­cides; while oth­ers re­mained si­lent.” He did not iden­tify who had done what.

“Th­ese killings,” the prime min­is­ter re­vealed, were de­scribed by some as “ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings.” In­deed it is com­mon knowl­edge that in the weeks lead­ing up to the 2011 gen­eral elec­tions, sev­eral callers to RCI’s Newsspin had not-so-sub­tly im­plied a con­nec­tion be­tween the day’s gov­ern­ment and killers in po­lice uni­forms.

It was hardly a sur­prise, there­fore, when the prime min­is­ter re­vealed in his tele­vised 2013 ad­dress that the ru­mors “at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the United States, in par­tic­u­lar the State Depart­ment whose Coun­try Re­port on Hu­man Rights Prac­tices in Saint Lu­cia for 2011 cited twelve po­ten­tially un­law­ful fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings dur­ing the year,” some re­port­edly com­mit­ted by of­fi­cers as­so­ci­ated with an ad­hoc task force within the po­lice depart­ment.

It was also bruited about that at least one gov­ern­ment min­is­ter held sway over the “ad-hoc task force.” The US em­bassy’s re­vo­ca­tion of visas held by a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter and at least one po­lice of­fi­cer added more fuel to the ru­mor flames.

The prime min­is­ter went on: “It is this is­sue which has pre­oc­cu­pied the United States and has led to the ac­tions against the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice force.”

More­over: “The United States be­lieves it has cred­i­ble ev­i­dence that of­fi­cers of the Royal Saint Lu­cia Po­lice Force com­mit­ted gross vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights.”

The prime min­is­ter re­ferred to an ear­lier de­liv­ered state­ment: “It is un­de­ni­able that it is in our vi­tal in­ter­est to main­tain close ties of co­op­er­a­tion with the United States in se­cu­rity mat­ters.”

Shock­ingly, he said: “From our first few months in of­fice the gov­ern­ment has al­ways un­der­stood the se­ri­ous­ness of this mat­ter and its im­pli­ca­tions for the po­lice force—and in­deed the for­mer po­lit­i­cal di­rec­torate.”

So what did the prime min­is­ter now pro­pose to do, not only to nor­mal­ize gov­ern­ment re­la­tions with the U.S. State Depart­ment but also to re­store public faith in the po­lice? He said his gov­ern­ment had in­vited the CARICOM Im­ple­men­ta­tion Agency for Crime and Se­cu­rity—IMPACS—“to iden­tify three se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the re­gion to in­ves­ti­gate the so-called ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings.”

He promised “the find­ings, if ad­verse, will be for­warded to the Direc­tor of Public Pros­e­cu­tions who has ul­ti­mate ju­ris­dic­tion in crim­i­nal mat­ters. There can be no other way.”

Point­edly, the prime min­is­ter added: “We now reap the har­vest of rash de­ci­sions, par­tic­u­larly by pol­icy mak­ers anx­ious to gain quick res­o­lu­tions.”

Ob­vi­ously by “pol­icy mak­ers” he did not re­fer to his own ad­min­is­tra­tion!

The gov­ern­ment later an­nounced that it ex­pected to have the re­sult of the IMPACS in­ves­ti­ga­tion six months later, in Fe­bru­ary 2014. Alas, Fe­bru­ary came and went with­out word of the promised re­port. Last month, to­ward the end of his New Year ad­dress, al­most as an af­ter­thought, the prime min­is­ter con­firmed what ear­lier this news­pa­per had re­ported, and his jus­tice min­is­ter de­nied: the gov­ern­ment had re­ceived the IMPACS re­port.

He also con­firmed that “the Cabi­net of Min­is­ters is de­lib­er­at­ing on the con­tents and im­pli­ca­tions of the re­port” but this was “not the oc­ca­sion to share the find­ings with you. I in­tend to do so in a sep­a­rate ad­dress in early Fe­bru­ary.”

In a re­cent in­ter­view with the prime min­is­ter’s press sec­re­tary, the for­mer po­lice com­mis­sioner Aus­bert Regis ad­vised that the gov­ern­ment “must find the courage to do the right thing” about the al­le­ga­tions against the po­lice. “Oth­er­wise the gov­ern­ment might as well close shop!”

Last Satur­day, in the na­tion’s best in­ter­ests, this news­pa­per started a count­down with a short item headed: “Two weeks to IMPACS Day!”

On Mon­day, as we had an­tic­i­pated, the prime min­is­ter an­nounced his third post­pone­ment of his prom­ise to come clean on the all-im­por­tant re­port. He said he would now share it with the peo­ple on March 8.

In the mean­time the na­tional ru­mor mill is work­ing over­time, spec­u­lat­ing about the rea­son for the post­pone­ments, among them that some gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are im­pli­cated; the re­port is bad news that could cast dark clouds over the In­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions; that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion it­self rep­re­sents an­other il­le­gal­ity.

We shall see—even as we begin a new count­down!

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